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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Isu Sebenar Bahasa Melayu dan Bahasa Inggeris - Surat Wan Mohd. Aimran dalam The Star

Letter: Don’t confuse BM and English issue

oleh Wan Mohd Aimran (Siaran dalam Facebook pada pada 11hb Disember 2011 pukul 6.10 ptg)

Below is the complete and un-edited version of my letter that appeared in The Star Education supplement today (11th December 2011) in reply to a previous letter concerning the teaching of the English language and its influence on the mastery of science amongst students.

The letter as it appeared in The Star may be read at the following link:

I pray that it be beneficial to those who read it.
Dear Sir,

I read with interest the letter published in The Star Education section dated December 4th, 2011 titled "English is global" written by Bhavani Veasuvalingan [1] and wish to offer several remarks regarding key points put forth in that letter.

In my estimation, if it is readily admitted that it was the student's poor mastery of the English language - which is employed as the medium of instruction during classes and lectures - that is impairing the student's ability to follow and understand the contents being delivered to them, then the correct strategy to remedy such a problem is to focus on ameliorating the student's proficiency in English.

The best way to effect such a solution is to improve the standards in which English is taught as a subject, including providing better training for English teachers; selecting and compiling high quality reading materials in English for the benefit of the students; constantly monitoring the progress of weak students and offering out-of-school remedial classes for them; conducting workshops and seminars that allows English teachers from all over the country to share, exchange and deliberate on effective teaching techniques for English etc.

The bottom line is that since the root cause is the student's poor mastery of English, therefore the proper solution demands that it be tackled by those teachers whose main duties are to teach English as a subject.

It is incorrect to presume that the student's poor mastery of English can be remedied by heaping onto the students more and more materials in English in the vain hope that prolonged exposure towards such materials will gradually improve his ability to understand them or that it will increase his confidence in using English as part of his daily conversation.

If one may strike a simple analogy: say that there is a student who faces great difficulties in solving a quadratic equations i.e. he does not understand the step-by-step method prescribed to solve the problem, much less the purpose behind trying to solve such a problem. After some probing by a concerned teacher, it was discovered that the root cause of the student's difficulties lies in him being unable to recognize, understand and therefore manipulate numbers and other mathematical symbols.

Now, in the face of such a realization, the correct strategy that should be taken by the teacher is to begin by teaching the student how to recognize numbers and perform basic arithmetic with it. It will be most unwise, if not self-defeating, for the teacher to attempt to remedy the problem faced by the student by presenting him with more quadratic equations of various kinds and asking him to solve them through trial and error, with the (misguided) intention that sooner or later, the original difficulty by the student will disappear by itself.

The same logic applies to the case of the student's poor mastery of English; that the best way is to devote our energy and effort to improving the student's mastery of English by properly teaching the student the basics of English i.e. grammar, comprehension, writing and presentation, as opposed to imposing upon the student more and more of the same materials that he finds completely incomprehensible with the futile wish that the student will gain positive understanding of it through repeated and unrelenting exposure.

For how can somebody who have not learnt to walk be expected to run?

On the other hand, those who subscribe to the belief that a person can be taught to run without first having to teach him how to walk betray their ignorance regarding the correct order of priority in the topics that ought to be taught to a student in any subject. I venture to maintain that certain individuals and groups who blindly persist in calling for the resurrection of PPSMI belongs firmly to this category, since they delude themselves into thinking that a student's poor mastery in English can be improved simultaneously as the students are being taught new materials in two other technical subjects, namely Science and Mathematics.

Now should the students face difficulties in grasping key terms and concepts in Science and Mathematics, much less to follow the careful reasoning techniques necessary in these two technical subjects, because they find the scientific and mathematical jargons and concepts being dished out to them in their Science and Mathematics classes foreign to their ears and alien to their normal way of thinking and reasoning, is it not ludicrous to believe that forcing more and more of these jargons and concepts to them will make them magically understand it sooner or later?

Furthermore, if it has been found and confirmed in numerous scholarly papers and works done by reputed scholars all over the world concerning the feasibility and wisdom of conducting lessons using the student's mother tongue, is it not more reasonable to a sound mind to opt for the mother tongue of these students (for instance, Malay) to be the main medium of instruction for these two technical subjects?

Is it not also more fitting to the position of Bahasa Melayu as the national language of Malaysia - as stated by the Federal Constitution and confirmed through various other acts, laws and regulations since Independence - to be accorded an honorable position by having it used as the main medium of instruction for these two technical subjects?

To those who charge without verifiable proofs that Bahasa Melayu is not capable of being elevated to handle highly refined intellectual discourses, or that Bahasa Melayu is impotent in serving the foundational needs of the fields of Science and Mathematics to articulate key terms and concepts, or that Bahasa Melayu is only appropriate for the use of crass politicians and crude entertainers in popular culture, such calumnies have received their due and just replies from a thousand voices from many men and women of eminence from our local universities (for instance, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia), research institutes (for instance, Institut Alam dan Tamadun Melayu), learned societies (for instance, Akademi Sains Islam Malaysia, Gabungan Persatuan Penulis Nasional), government bodies (for instance, Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka) and various politicians (both from Pakatan Rakyat and Barisan Nasional).

Lest we are accused of being "anti-English", let us point out the self-evident fact that before the implementation of PPSMI, the two technical subjects - Science and Mathematics - were taught in Bahasa Melayu for several decades without causing any serious impediments to the student's ability to grasp scientific and mathematical terms and key concepts, whilst at the same time securing the student's mastery of the English language.

This historical fact is itself sufficient proof to demonstrate that a correct and proper understanding of Science and Mathematics may be achieved if these two technical subjects are taught in Bahasa Melayu, without having to introduce such half-baked policies such as PPSMI. It is not the teaching of Science and Mathematics in Bahasa Melayu or any other mother tongue that has to prove its worth and feasibility; rather it is the teaching of Science and Mathematics in English, this rashly-introduced scheme masquerading as the status quo, that has to prove its worth and validity at a smaller, experimental scale before being introduced in all schools all across Malaysia.

Indeed, those who seek to enthrone PPSMI as the status quo, as the 'way things used to be' in the country before the 'blight' of Bahasa Melayu came, are either ignorant of the long linguistic struggles by the country's illustrious scholars or too ensconced in their arrogance to care. Either way, such people should not be permitted to impose their sophistry masking as false modesty upon the unsuspecting public, who deserve guidance that is founded upon true knowledge and not upon vain conjectures.

That certain groups persist in their stubbornness to recognize the subtle but crucial distinction between the teaching of English as a subject and the teaching of Science and Mathematics as separate subjects, and then to confuse between the aims of these two subjects - one concerning language, the other concerning science and mathematics - betrays their ignorance of correct pedagogical methods and their disrespect towards the distinct duties and responsibilities of English and Science/Mathematics teachers, each having their own respective roles to play; the former to aid the students in mastering English as a language for communication; the latter to cultivate a keen understanding of key terms and concepts in Science and Mathematics in the students.


School of Applied Physics,
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia


[1] The original letter to which this response is directed to can be read at the following link:


  1. Well thought-out and convincing argument. Now, if only the administration would focus on the remedy for our deteriorating mastery of English. And BM, too.

  2. Salam Prof.
    Semoga diberkati dan dirahmati Allah swt.
    Terima kasih perkongsian ilmu ini.

  3. terima kasih atas perkongsian ilmu

  4. en wan mohd aimran ni adalag pensyarah astronomi saya di ukm ni